Southwest Ohio was key to Shaker music

A lecture will explore the area’s impact.

“The spread of Shakerism to Ohio stimulated a new hymn-writing enterprise among the Shakers for the first time. This was conveyed back to the other Shaker communities, back in New England. Soon, hymn-writing eclipsed other forms of music among the Shakers and became their principal musical genre. And it all started in Ohio,” said Carol Medlicott, associate professor in the Department of History and Geography at Northern Kentucky University.

Medlicott will give a presentation, “A Musical Center? Ohio Shakers at the Heart of it All,” on the evolution of music within the religious group Wednesday, March 19, as part of the Warren County Historical Society’s Lunch and Learn series.

I want to share just how important music was as the glue that held the Shaker world together,” she said. “The Shakers practiced strict separation from the world. Yet their villages were scattered across a thousand miles of American space, from Maine to western Indiana and southwestern Kentucky. They had to find ways of creating and sustaining a common Shaker identity. Music helped Shakers to do just that. And some of the most important initiatives ever to happen in Shaker music flowed straight out of the settlements in southwestern Ohio.”

Medlicott has written two books on Shaker history: “Issachar Bates: A Shaker’s Journey” and “Richard McNemar, Music, and the Western Shaker Communities,” co-authored with Christian Goodwillie.

She will examine theses two musical influences, who in 1832 launched a major project to compile a new hymnal from the Shaker village of Watervliet, near modern day Beavercreek.

Bates “knew how to write poetry, he knew how to sing, and he knew how to teach others to sing. … He became one of the most influential Shaker hymn writers of the early 19th century,” Medlicott explained.

McNemar, too, was a musician, singer and poet.

“He was better than anyone else at taking the difficult theological concepts of the Shakers and conveying them through eloquent hymn verse,” she said.

“It is nothing short of miraculous that the small building that McNemar and Bates labored in, as they accomplished the compilation and printing of this hymnal in 1832, is virtually the only surviving structure from the Shaker community of Watervliet, on the outskirts of Dayton,” Medlicott said. “Today, McNemar’s print shop has been moved to the Carillon Historical Park near downtown Dayton. It stands as a testimony to the remarkable partnership between these two Shaker music giants.”

The award-winning Lunch and Learn series, held at the Warren County History Center in Lebanon, offers monthly presentations on various aspects of Warren County and southwest Ohio history.

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